Still Life – Black Table, 1963, is an alluring example of Richard Diebenkorn's figurative painting, a body of work that would surpass his earlier abstractions both in importance and expressive power. As the artist recalled, "when I stopped abstract painting and started figure painting it was as though a kind of constraint came in that was welcomed because I had felt that in the last of the abstract paintings around '55, it was almost as though I could do too much too easily. There was nothing hard to come up against. And suddenly the figure painting furnished a lot of this." (Diebenkorn interviewed by Gail Scott in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, New Paintings by Richard Diebenkorn, 1969, p. 6).
The present work, rendered in a nuanced grey scale and minimally highlighted with rosy pigment, situates domestic objects within a field of skewed, planar geometry. The water glass, china plate, and cropped silver utensil are suspended with a charming naiveté on what only approximates the perspective of a grid. "The still-life object firmly anchored him in concrete reality... [there is an] arresting discrepancy between the quality of literal verisimilitude in the small [still-lifes] of humble objects and the somehow metaphoric, even allegorical, character of the more ambitiously scaled interiors." (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1998, p, 50).
Interestingly, if the representational imagery in the present work were to be removed from this composition, the strong, though subtle, geometry could easily be translated into the artist's later and perhaps most well known Ocean Park compositions, in which Diebenkorn sought to occupy the space between figuration and abstraction with lyrical ease. Despite the solemn palette and flattened, cool geometry, Still Life – Black Table still retains a sense of intimacy and atmosphere evoked by the presence of familiar and discernible objects.